Debate panel discusses faith in U.S. politics

Sydney Bauer/Staff Photographer
Communications professor John Rief and Rev. John Sawicki at the panel Monday.
Sydney Bauer/Staff Photographer  Communications professor John Rief and Rev. John Sawicki at the panel Monday.
Sydney Bauer | Staff Photographer

Communications professor John Rief and Rev. John Sawicki at the panel Monday.

Carolyn Conte | Staff Writer

Religion and politics can be sensitive subjects, often avoided in polite conversation, but that did not stop Duquesne’s Spiritan Campus Ministry and the Center for the Catholic Intellectual Tradition from diving head first into a discussion of both during its “Building a Better World: Faithful Citizenship and the 2016 Election” panel on Monday.

The panel took place Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Africa Room, in front of roughly 40 students. The panel discussed how people of faith play a role in politics. After the panel, there was a viewing of Monday night’s presidential debate.

The panelists included Anna Scheid, professor of theology, John Rief, professor in communication and rhetorical studies, and Rev. John Sawicki, political science professor.

The panelists spoke about which religious values are relevant to the election, how they believe morality is tied to every political issue and how students can have an open dialogue about religion in politics.

Spiritan Campus Minister Kate Lecci said she hoped students would gain insights about how to weigh governmental issues in relation to faith, in light of the presidential election.

“I’m a huge nerd,” she laughed. “[We] had been talking about how unique this opportunity is — you know, it only comes [every] four years — and how we wanted to give credence to the brilliant minds here, and bring the faculty to students.”

Lecci handed out a pamphlet that addressed the seven pillars of Catholic social teaching and how the American party platforms are positioned in relation to Catholicism.

While most voters form their opinions personally, the Catholic Church believes that one’s conscience is answerable to something — that it can be formed a right way or a wrong way. Therefore, the panel and handout were meant to help Catholics perceive what that decision is.

Rief used the history of the United States to support his argument for a more open dialogue.

“Religion and faith cannot be separated and, in fact, were never separated,” he said.

Reif said public discourse is now often doused in anger and fear, which can lead to disengagement and a broken community. He added that while religion is often used superficially to buy votes or to stop conversation, it would be best to bring it to the conversation.

The panelists claimed that religion and politics were tied together as responsibilities of both a United States citizen and as a Catholic.

“There are some Christians that would say they shouldn’t vote and participate in a corrupt system,” Scheid said in response to an audience question about the responsibility to vote. “Others use it as a strategy to promote their morals.”

Antonia Gelorme, a freshman studying political science, came to quench her curiosity after receiving emails in notification of the event.

“It was definitely not what I expected, they refrained from pointing fingers,” she said.

Gelorme said the event reminded her of Catholic ideals that are not obvious yet affect other issues, such as race relations.

Freshman supply chain management major Michael Hudak saw the panel as an opportunity to broaden his perspectives.

“In general, just the ethics of voting have gotten so lost over the years,” Hudak said, and he hoped the panel would discuss this.

Kathleen Herbstritt, a sophomore English major and women’s gender studies minor, said she came for a class’s extra credit and because she was interested in the political debate. While she had wanted to hear about women’s healthcare among other issues, she said that after the panel she would also look out for whether or not the candidates appeal to the middle class only or address marginal populations, an issue the panelists had pointed out.

As the panel concluded and students grabbed more pizza for their plates, Lecci passed out a debate bingo card. Clinton and Trump appeared before them on a projection, and hence an hour and a half of head shaking, side-eyes, laughter, booing, clapping and dramatic coughs commenced.

Moderator Darlene Weaver, theology professor and director of Catholic Intellectual Tradition, said she hopes the students will take away more than just soundbites from the politicians, such as a deeper appreciation for the wide range of political decisions, and what those decisions mean under the Catholic responsibility to promote the common good.

Voter registration ends on Oct. 11, and the event offered a table in the back for students to register. Pennsylvania students may register online or go to the County Voter Registration Office at 542 Forbes Ave.